the shittiness of things

How Thailand’s NGOs Have Betrayed The Rural Poor

A quite informative excerpt from an article about how and why many Thai NGOs have betrayed Thailand’s rural poor and sided with the anti-democratic elites (you can download the PDF here). This article by the Thai-British political activist Giles Ji Ungpakorn, who had to flee to the United Kingdom after facing a lèse majesté charge in Thailand, has been published on his own website, Red Thai Socialist.

>>After the “collapse of Communism” the NGO movement turned its back on “politics” and the primacy of mass movements and political parties in the 1980s[19]. Instead they embraced “lobby politics” [20] and/or Community Anarchism[21]. Despite the apparent contradiction between lobby politics, which leads NGOs to cooperate with the state, and state-rejecting Community Anarchism, the two go together. This is because they reject any confrontation or competition with the state. Lobbyists cooperate with the state, while Community Anarchists hope to ignore it. They both reject building a big picture political analysis[22]. Instead of building mass movements or political parties, the NGOs concentrated on single-issue campaigns as part of their attempt to avoid confrontation with the state. This method of working also dove-tailed with grant applications to international funding bodies. It led to a de-politicisation of the movement. Thus, NGOs cooperated with both military and elected Governments in Thailand since the early 1980s. In 1989 they were invited to be part of the state’s 7th National Economic and Social Development Plan and by 1992 NGOs were receiving budget allocations from the Ministry of Health. The Social Welfare department and the department of Environment also provided funds[23]. This raises the issue of “GNGOs” ie., Government funded NGOs. Can they really be called NGOs?

The NGOs also oppose Representative Democracy, along Anarchist lines, because they believe it only leads to dirty Money Politics. But the Direct Democracy in village communities, which they advocate, is powerless in the face of the all powerful state. It also glorifies traditional and conservative village leaders which are not subject to any democratic mandate. Eventually, the idea goes together with a failure to defend parliamentary Democracy. Their anarchistic rejection of representative politics, allowed them to see “no difference” between an elected parliament controlled by TRT and a military coup. Instead of bothering to carefully analyse the political situation, the distrust of elections, votes[24] and Representative Democracy allowed NGOs to align themselves with reactionaries like the PAD and the military, who advocate more appointed public positions.

Initially, in 2001, the NGOs loved-up to Taksin’s TRT Government. They believed that it was open to NGO lobbying, which it was. TRT took on board the idea of a Universal Health Care System from progressive doctors and health-related NGOs. But then, the NGOs were wrong-footed by the Government’s raft of other pro-poor policies that seemed to prove to villagers that the NGOs had only been “playing” at development. What is more, the increased use of the state to provide welfare and benefits by the TRT Government went against the Anarchist-inspired NGO idea that communities should organise their own welfare. After their about-face in attitude to TRT, the NGOs turned towards the conservative royalists and the army.

The link between the ideas of conservative royalists and the NGOs had been forged even earlier in the late 1990s, when NGOs started to take up the Kings theory of the “Sufficiency Economy”, claiming that it was the same as their Anarchist ideas of Community Self-Sufficiency, which argued for a separation from market Capitalism[25]. Thus, both NGO-COD and the Thai Volunteer Service enthusiastically promoted the Sufficiency Economy. Later, Yuk Si-Araya, an ex-CPT activist turned right-wing nationalist and supporter of the PAD, argued for the Sufficiency Economy on the same basis[26]. He also argued that “Western-style” democracy was incompatible with Thai culture. Finally, the conservative royalist and medical doctor, Prawase Wasi, provided the bridge between the NGOs and the conservatives in the state[27].

Again, despite the apparent contradiction between the conservative elite’s idea of “Sufficiency Economy”, which is really a reactionary ideology aimed at keeping the poor “happy” in their poverty, and the Anarchist Community Self-Sufficiency, which is more about villagers becoming independent from the state, the two ideas fit together. Both reject state welfare and the use of the state as an instrument to redistribute wealth. Both also fail to challenge the power and authority of the ruling elites and the state. Both Community Self-Sufficiency and Sufficiency Economy claim to oppose the modern capitalist market, yet the military junta managed to write Sufficiency Economy into their 2007 Constitution alongside extreme neoliberal free-market policies. The utopian nature of both sufficiency theories allows them to be very flexible and detached from reality. The Anarchistic distrust of state-organised welfare, helped the NGOs to oppose the Taksin Government. For many NGOs, welfare should be organised by communities. But this anti-state position opened the door to accepting a neo-liberal concept of a small state, a view shared by the conservative royalists.

Just because Anarchism can fit together with lobby politics and conservative royalist ideas, it does not mean that all Anarchist organisations automatically link up with conservative elites. The Assembly of the Poor (AOP), a mass movement of poor farmers, which was led by some NGO activists, never supported the 2006 coup and never supported the PAD. However, it was one of the honourable exceptions. The key point about the Assembly of the Poor is that it was a social movement with mass involvement of the poor, unlike most NGOs or NGO networks. Many AOP activists remain extremely hostile to military coups and the strong hand of the state. AOP tactics emphasised mass protests rather than trying to get positions on state-sponsored committees, although they have also adopted lobby tactics as well[28].

The political situation, before and just after the coup, was extremely messy and difficult. There was not much to choose from between the two elite sides, except for the important fact that TRT held power through the electoral process. In this situation the NGOs should have remained neutral and with the poor and they should have opposed the coup. But they were angry that TRT had won over their supporters and were distrustful of TRT’s use of the state to build welfare programmes and stimulate the economy.

Because Community Self-Sufficiency, separated from state and market, are extremely utopian ideas which are not particularly popular with rural people, there was a danger that NGOs which advocate such ideas could become elitist in outlook, seeing villagers as hopelessly misguided. Since the poor voted on mass for TRT, the NGOs became viciously patronising towards villagers, claiming that they “lack the right information” to make political decisions. In fact, there was always a patronising element to their practical work. Many Thai NGO leaders are self-appointed middle class activists who shun elections and believe that NGOs should “nanny[29]” peasants and workers. They have become bureaucratised. They are now fearful and contemptuous of the Red Shirt movement, which is starting a process of self-empowerment of the poor. Of course, the Red Shirts are not angels, but in today’s crisis, they represent the poor and the thirst for freedom and Democracy.<<


Xenophobes Are Sexually Frustrated


Last week when I was browsing and reading for a presentation about the Korean website Ilbe, which is infamous for the far-right attitudes of its community, I came across the news of one alleged Ilbe user, who staged a one-man protest in front of the Ewha Womans University in Seoul. During this “protest” the young man had put two cardboard signs round his shoulders, which were full with insults and slurs and accusations of being communists and traitors directed against Ehwa students. Needless to say that many of these insults were explicitly sexist, for example like this one: “Why do you yangbbong sluts like Western dicks so much?” (If roughly translated. The original Korean statement: “양뽕 맞아 화냥년질 서양종이 최고더냐”) Yangbbong is a derogatory term, mainly used by Ilbe users, for Korean women, which implies the accusation that they would only want to interfere with Western men (it’s a combination of the Korean words seoyang, which does mean western world, and hirobbong, which does mean methamphetamine, so I guess it can be roughly translated as being addicted to westerners or the western world, I should also add that according to one Korean friend this term isn’t exclusively used for women).

This guy seems to have some serious issues and the sexual frustration behind these sexist insults is obvious, but what actually struck me was the familiarity of the statement above. It’s actually just another version of the the-foreigners-are-stealing-our-women nonsense, which I’ve heard and read quite often from German xenophobes as well. Therefore, it appears to me that sexual frustration is a common characteristic of xenophobes around the world regardless of the differences in nationality, culture, language and history. Because, seriously, how else could you possibly explain why xenophobes in Germany and Korea would make the very same stupid and sexist statements, which communicate a feeling of being somehow cheated on a fulfilled relationship and sexuality? Their far-right sentiments offer them the possibility to direct their sexual frustration towards the two groups of people for which they don’t have much regard anyway: Women and foreigners. Pathetic.

Woody Guthrie – All You Fascists Bound To Lose

Libertarians Parodying Themselves

If this unintentionally funny op-ed hadn’t been published on the website of the libertarian think tank Ludwig von Mises Institute, I would be dead sure that this is satire. Apparently one libertarian is really trying to sell us the evil Scrooge of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as the actual good guy, who just has been totally misunderstood:

>>So let’s look without preconceptions at Scrooge’s allegedly underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. The fact is, if Cratchit’s skills were worth more to anyone than the fifteen shillings Scrooge pays him weekly, there would be someone glad to offer it to him. Since no one has, and since Cratchit’s profit-maximizing boss is hardly a man to pay for nothing, Cratchit must be worth exactly his present wages.

No doubt Cratchit needs—i.e., wants—more, to support his family and care for Tiny Tim. But Scrooge did not force Cratchit to father children he is having difficulty supporting. If Cratchit had children while suspecting he would be unable to afford them, he, not Scrooge, is responsible for their plight. And if Cratchit didn’t know how expensive they would be, why must Scrooge assume the burden of Cratchit’s misjudgment?

As for that one lump of coal Scrooge allows him, it bears emphasis that Cratchit has not been chained to his chilly desk. If he stays there, he shows by his behavior that he prefers his present wages-plus-comfort package to any other he has found, or supposes himself likely to find. Actions speak louder than grumbling, and the reader can hardly complain about what Cratchit evidently finds satisfactory.

More notorious even than his miserly ways are Scrooge’s cynical words. “Are there no prisons,” he jibes when solicited for charity, “and the Union workhouses?”

Terrible, right? Lacking in compassion?

Not necessarily. As Scrooge observes, he supports those institutions with his taxes. Already forced to help those who can’t or won’t help themselves, it is not unreasonable for him to balk at volunteering additional funds for their extra comfort.

Scrooge is skeptical that many would prefer death to the workhouse, and he is unmoved by talk of the workhouse’s cheerlessness. He is right to be unmoved, for society’s provisions for the poor must be, well, Dickensian. The more pleasant the alternatives to gainful employment, the greater will be the number of people who seek these alternatives, and the fewer there will be who engage in productive labor. If society expects anyone to work, work had better be a lot more attractive than idleness.

The normally taciturn Scrooge lets himself go a bit when Cratchit hints that he would like a paid Christmas holiday. “It’s not fair,” Scrooge objects, a charge not met by Cratchet’s patently irrelevant protest that Christmas comes but once a year. Unfair it is, for Cratchit would doubtless object to a request for a day’s uncompensated labor, “and yet,” as Scrooge shrewdly points out, “you don’t think me ill used when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

Cratchit has apparently forgotten the golden rule. (Or is it that Scrooge has so much more than Cratchit that the golden rule does not come into play? But Scrooge doesn’t think he has that much, and shouldn’t he have a say in the matter?)

Scrooge’s first employer, good old Fezziwig, was a lot freer with a guinea—he throws his employees a Christmas party. What the Ghost of Christmas Past does not explain is how Fezziwig afforded it. Did he attempt to pass the added costs to his customers? Or did young Scrooge pay for it anyway by working for marginally lower wages?

The biggest of the Big Lies about Scrooge is the pointlessness of his pursuit of money. “Wealth is of no use to him. He doesn’t do any good with it,” opines ruddy nephew Fred.

Wrong on both counts. Scrooge apparently lends money, and to discover the good he does one need only inquire of the borrowers. Here is a homeowner with a new roof, and there a merchant able to finance a shipment of tea, bringing profit to himself and happiness to tea drinkers, all thanks to Scrooge.

Dickens doesn’t mention Scrooge’s satisfied customers, but there must have been plenty of them for Scrooge to have gotten so rich.<<

And this is just an excerpt. I won’t waste time debunking every nonsense in there but will instead cite the American anarchist Alexander Berkman, who did not only show the absurdity of the op-ed above long before it has been published but who did also show the inconsistency of libertarianism in general long before it was called by this name:

>>The law says that your employer does not steal anything from you, because it is done with your consent. You have agreed to work for your boss for certain pay, he to have all that you produce. Because you consented to it, the law says that he does not steal anything from you.

But did you really consent?

When the highwayman holds his gun to your head, you turn your valuables over to him. You ‘consent’ all right, but you do so because you cannot help yourself, because you are compelled by his gun.

Are you not compelled to work for an employer? Your need compels you, just as the highwayman’s gun. You must live, and so must your wife and children. You can’t work for yourself, under the capitalist industrial system you must work for an employer. The factories, machinery, and tools belong to the employing class, so you must hire yourself out to that class in order to work and live. Whatever you work at, whoever your employer may be, it always comes to the same: you must work for him. You can’t help yourself You are compelled.

In this way the whole working class is compelled to work for the capitalist class. In this manner the workers are compelled to give up all the wealth they produce. The employers keep that wealth as their profit, while the worker gets only a wage, just enough to live on, so he can go on producing more wealth for his employer. Is that not cheating, robbery?

The law says it is a ‘free agreement’. Just as well might the highwayman say that you ‘agreed’ to give up your valuables. The only difference is that the highwayman’s way is called stealing and robbery, and is forbidden by law. While the capitalist way is called business, industry, profit making, and is protected by law. […]

You depend on your employer for your wages or your salary, don’t you? And your wages determine your way of living, don’t they? The conditions of your life, even what you eat and drink, where you go and with whom you associate, – all of it depends on your wages.

No, you are not a free man. You are dependent on your employer and on your wages. You are really a wage slave.

The whole working class, under the capitalist system, is dependent on the capitalist class. The workers are wage slaves.

So, what becomes of your freedom? What can you do with it? Can you do more with it than your wages permit?

Can’t you see that your wage – your salary or income – is all the freedom that you have? Your freedom, your liberty, don’t go a step further than the wages you get.

The freedom that is given you on paper, that is written down in law books and constitutions, does not do you a bit of good. Such freedom only means that you have the right to do a certain thing. But it doesn’t mean that you can do it. To be able to do it, you must have the chance, the opportunity. You have a right to eat three fine meals a day, but if you haven’t the means, the opportunity to get those meals, then what good is that right to you?

So freedom really means opportunity to satisfy your needs and wants. If your freedom does not give you that opportunity, than it does you no good. Real freedom means opportunity and well being. If it does not mean that, it means nothing.<<

Amazon Workers Strike In Germany

Finally some news from my country of which I’m not ashamed for a change:

>>At the end of November, hundreds of Amazon employees in Germany began staging a series of wildcat strikes. On Monday, hundreds of workers again walked off the job in an effort to put pressure on the company during the busy days before Christmas. The Ver.di union says Amazon workers receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs. According to the the union, “The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts.”

These complaints will sound familiar to American Amazon employees, who testify about constant performance pressure, on-site injuries, indifferent managers, long hours and low pay.

Back in February, was under attack in Germany for alleged mistreatment of workers following a television documentary that showed immigrant employees living in cramped housing under surveillance by security guards in neo-Nazi garb. Workers were promised €9.69, but upon showing up for work, learned they would only be compensated €8.52 ($11.37) per hour.

Amazon later said it canceled the contract with that security company whose guards were accused of harassing workers, searching their rooms and frisking them to make sure they had not taken food from the dining room, Businessweek reports.

German workers now plan to stage a one-day warning strike at Amazon logistic centers in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld and Graben, and on Monday some of the strikers plan to rally outside the retailer’s Seattle headquarters in hopes of drawing in local union workers as well as sympathetic members of the public, the New York Times reports. […]
Amazon sales in Germany are skyrocketing. Last year, they rose by 21 percent, and the country is the firm’s second biggest market after the US, responsible for about a third of all overseas sales, the BBC reports. And while this is certainly a labor dispute over the familiar terrain of living wages, the Times notes there is also a bigger question of whether the warehouse workers should have control over their workplace. (Employees known as “pickers” assemble Amazon orders. These jobs are extremely physically demanding, and pickers are constantly monitored, and are not provided job security).<<

It’s also nice to see that local unions in America are openly supporting their German colleagues’s fight:

>>”What’s happening in Seattle is not a strike but an act of solidarity with workers in Germany,” Ms. Middeke said. A number of U.S. unions took part in the protest, including the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, two of the largest U.S. unions. […]

In Seattle, a representative for the union federation AFL-CIO said about 50 people participated in the protest there. “About 10 different labor unions were present in solidarity with Ver.di,” Kathy Cummings of the Washington state AFL-CIO said.<<

But most gratifying for me was to read that in Leipzig at least some unviersity students showed up to express their solidarity (in order to understand why this is for me such pleasent surprise, I should add that German students these days are not only quite apolitical but also show usually only indifference for the labor struggle of low-wage workers, including the cleaning personnel in their own universities):

>>On Wednesday a delegation of Amazon employees, who are striking since Monday, vistited the students at the campus of the University of Leipzig. In the morning a delegation of 250 strikers arrived at the university and was greeted by signs and banners. One activist of the protest campaign welcomed the colleagues with a defiant belllicose speech, in which she emphasised that the students would identitify themselves with the labor struggle of the employees, because they were hit by precarious working and living conditions as well. […] “More and more people are living and working in this rich Germany under precarious conditions and can hardly survive on their wages. Amazon as global corporation stands symptomatically for this very business model – increasing profits at the expense of the wages.”<<